Submariner Ben Remembers The Brown Derby

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Submariner Ben and Gloria at The Green Parro

The backstory to this photo, begins with Ben,  in the foreground,  handsome  former United States Navy Submariner, and his wife Gloria, smiling broadly across the table last Sunday afternoon at The Green Parrot Bar’s Fats Navarro Jazz Tribute. 

At that time, a  few folks were innocently horsing around  in  the window by the table, taking photos, and when asked them to be a little less-animated lest the shutter flop down on them, they politely complied. 


When I turned to Ben, seated at the table nearest the window, and said “I’d hate to see them flop down on you”, he off-handedly replied that it would not have been the first time someone had flopped down on him in this particular bar. 


That got my attention, and when pressed, Ben told me that as submarine-sailor, in the late ’50’s, he had been regular at  The Green Parrot’s previous, and only, incarnation,  The Brown Derby Bar, an infamous Submarine-sailor hang-out,  and, as for piling on,  he had been at the focal-point of an epic Key West brawl there in what was oft-described as  Key West’s  Barbary Coast. 


Ben went on to tell me that he was Master at Arms at The Key West Submarine Base on the the day a  brightly-painted pink submarine, being used in the 1959  WW II Cary Grant,  Tony Curtis comedy film,  Operation Petticoat,  pulled into Key West Harbor, manned by Key West-based, regular-navy,  submarine sailors.


Ben, as he recounted, was  duty-bound, as  Master at Arms, that day to provide all waterborne and maritime security and detainee operations, and  when he was told of the arrival of a pink submarine, he voiced an opinion over his PA, that he was not sure that either the pink vessel,  or, as far as he knew,  their pastel-uniformed crew, should be granted passage.


What Ben did not know, was that his opinion was broadcast not only to  his chief-petty officer, as he thought, but was aired  far-and-wide, and  that the officers and crew of the pink submarine, all road-tested, sea-weary, dolphin-wearing salts, also heard his deprecating remarks and as soon as they came ashore,  they strode into The Brown Derby,  just blocks from the sub-base, looking for the master at arms who had questioned their right to tie-up, as well as inferring much more.


He said the battle-royale that ensued went on for nearly two hours and mentioned, that while he was  by no means the victor, there was never a thought given to call either local police or Shore Patrol to intercede in the melee.


And,  he went on to add,, philosophically, the bar was a great bar then, and thinks it probably still is now.


As a post script, when I asked Ben how long he was staying in Key West,  and he said a week, I said I’d probably see him and he replied, “Yes, you will”. I sure hope so.